As this semester is winding to a close, I have been asked to reflect on the future of Missouri Western-particularly in light of the budgetary challenges that we face.
Until the state budget is finalized in the spring of 2011, we will not know the true extent of our budgetary challenges. All indications are that we will receive a fairly substantial cut in our state allocation. I have heard speculation that such cuts could be anywhere from 8 percent to 25 percent. Obviously, we are hoping to be at the lowest possible end of this range. Furthermore, we have tried to educate the commissioner of higher education and the Department of Higher Education about the unique financial circumstances and recent, rather remarkable accomplishments of Western. Lastly, we are making similar efforts with Governor Nixon and our legislators. My sense is that our message is getting through.
In addition to our efforts to educate the public and the decision-makers about Western’s financial picture and accomplishments, we have taken other measures. We have done a significant amount of belt tightening, and we are planning for even more. You are probably well aware of some of these measures, which include frozen salaries and wages for the past two years, a 20 percent cut in operating budgets, and a suspension of or a major cut in a number of university’s initiatives-just to name a few actions that have been taken. As such, I think that we are doing just about as much as we can to prepare for the financial uncertainties ahead of us.
With all of this said, Western has an impressive list of extremely positive indicators for the future:
We have experienced six consecutive years of record enrollment. We now have 6,134 students, which are 400 more students than just a year ago. According to the Governor’s office, we are currently the fastest growing regional university in the state.
We have a noteworthy 72 percent retention rate. This is virtually unheard of for an open enrollment university as the national average for open enrollment universities is 55 percent. Also, it represents a 15 percent increase in our freshman to sophomore retention rate in a mere four-year period. I believe that our enrollment increases and our current retention rate represent a very tangible “vote of approval” from our students.
We have some very impressive new or newly renovated facilities on campus, in particular, Agenstein-Remington Halls, new Athletic Facilities, and the new Residence Hall.
Our accreditation outcomes have been universally positive, most recently including prestigious AACSB International accreditation for the Craig School of Business.
On a daily basis, I am made aware of meaningful student, faculty, and staff accomplishments. Moreover, the testimonials that I hear from people who hire our students make me very proud.
Finally, our community is tremendously supportive of this university. I cannot tell you how many people from this community make a concerted effort to tell me that Western is a huge, transformational factor in this community.
In closing, no doubt we face some financial challenges. However, we need to continue to build on our considerable strengths, our important goal of educational access without compromising academic excellence and our unique mission of applied learning. If we continue to do this, I am convinced that we will transcend our hopefully temporary financial difficulties and have a very bright future.